The government of Cuba is often incorrectly derided by the United States as an undemocratic one-party state like other former socialist states such as the Soviet Union. The US and human rights groups often point out the systematic human rights abuses carried out by the Cuban government such as the repression of opponents and the harshness of prison conditions; although these criticisms are legitimate the US government often ignores the historic abuses and violations of international law that they have been party to.
The misinformation about the Cuban Republic is a legacy of McCarthyism in which the Castro regime was demonized as being akin to Axis leaders of WWII as a consequence of rejecting American capitalism, regardless of if the Cuban political system is in many ways more democratic the that of the United States. With relations between Cuba and the US thawing let’s see whether or not the US has been being hypocritical for the last 57 years.
The first charge that is brought against the Cuban regime is that they are a one-party state and that political opposition is suppressed. Whilst it is true that censorship still occurs in Cuba as well as the imprisonment of political dissidents I would like to answer the point about the lack of political choice in Cuba. This understanding may have arisen as a consequence of studying the Cuban Constitution which specifically mentions the Cuban Communist Party (CCP) has having a constitutional role in the political process as the driving force of political change, so by the US calling Cuba a one-party state is actually a half-truth.
The system of political parties and elections in Cuba is fascinating as Article 5 of the Cuban Constitution states that “the Communist Party of Cuba is the superior leasing force of the society and the State, organizing and guiding the common efforts at the highest goals of the construction of socialism and advancement toward the communist society”. If this were taken from a literalistic perspective it could be argued that the CCP must be a part of the government, but could easily work with other parties in order to maintain Cuba’s path toward full communism.
I would argue that this is not inherently undemocratic as the CCP’s raison d’etre is to be the vanguard force for socialism and eventual communism in Cuba, with the national opposition to capitalism stipulated in the 2002 amendment to the Cuban Constitution.
The other reason that the idea of Cuba being a one-party state is also a misnomer is that, including the CCP, there are actually nine political parties, unlike America where there is effectively two. What is particularly interesting is that political parties themselves, including the CCP, are banned by the Constitution from endorsing or campaigning for candidates, effectively making all elected representatives independents as in the Nebraska State Legislature.
In regards to local assemblies the chambers are comprised of members of the dominant party of the region along side official independents, however claiming that being the member of a political party was undemocratic would be an odd thing to do.
Because candidates in Cuban elections do not have the funding of political parties or monied interests (unlike the post-Citizens United USA), candidates have to be popular in their communities; a lack of political endorsements of candidates coupled with having to be recognisable to your constituents prevents safe seats from existing and monolithic party machines from parachuting people into certain electoral districts. Where I would argue that there is a problem with the Cuban electoral system is that candidates must be approved by the Committees for the Defense [sic] of the Revolution; whilst I applaud the original intent to guard the revolution against capitalist opponents from within, in the modern era I would prefer the CDR to be split into two separate agencies, one being like the FBI and another being as an electoral commission.
The second charge levied against the Cuban government by the US is that the Castro family are unelected dictators and hold too much power. The second criticism is justified because I would argue that the leader of any unitary state holds too much power and that all power should be vested in the people by means of full communism, however the first point is false.
The President of Cuba is indirectly elected by the National Assembly of People’s Power; saying that the President is unelected because it differs from a direct popular vote would be ludicrous. For example the President is appointed, albeit to a ceremonial position, in Germany and Britain is lead by a Prime Minister that isn’t directly elected with an unelected head of State above him.
However the grandest of ironies once again is courtesy of the loudest detractors of the Cuban regime; the United States, I would argue is less democratic than Cuba when electing its head of state. Whilst Cuba’s is appointed by its representatives, the US President is indirectly elected by the electoral college which is unelected and not legally compelled to pass on the citizens’ vote to their preferred candidate. Furthermore because each state is given a minimum of three electoral votes the electoral influence of some states in diminished because they happen to be most populated.
Without laying the irony on too thickly, there have been four instances in US history where the US election was won by the candidate who lost the popular vote (John Quincy Adams in 1824, Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, Benjamin Harrison in 1888, and George W. Bush in 2000), thus giving these presidents no democratic legitimacy. As a final cherry on top of the irony cake in front of you, if no candidate has a majority of electoral college votes, due to a tie or more than two candidates running, the US House of Representatives breaks the tie; a democratically elected collection of legislators appoints the President- just like Cuba.
On the point of the Castro regime being likened to the pseudo-monarchic dynasty of the Kim family of North Korea, the Castro brothers claim to be citizens working for the good of the Cuban people, not divinely inspired gods among men who smite any detractors with their wingéd horses and swords of righteousness. Also post-revolution Cuba has been around for 50 years and has has one influential political family; the United States as been around for 230 years with at least five (Harrison, Clinton, Roosevelt, Kennedy and Bush) which, according to maths, is more.
The final criticism is that Cuba is a prolific human rights abuser and the recent thawing of relations is legitimising the regime. The rhetoric coming out of right-wing politicians in the US is archetypal of the existing discourse around Cuba; Florida Senator Marco Rubio stated that “Cuba, like Syria, Iran and Sudan, remains a state sponsor of terrorism” with Texas Senator Ted Cruz echoing the same talking points. Obviously these inaccurate comments were made in order to raise their national profiles ahead of the 2016 Republican Presidential Primary, which they are both taking part in, but it also is indicative of the propaganda that has been put out about Cuba since the Red Scare. This assertion is a half-truth as although Cuba is listed by the State Department as a ‘State Sponsor of Terrorism’, State Department reports have repeatedly pointed out that although “[Cuba] has historic ties to two terrorist groups: Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)…there was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups”. Evidently, by lumping the Cuban government in with the religious leadership of Iran, these Republican senators are unconcerned with the reality of terrorism.
Many human rights organisations such as Amnesty International are concerned with violations by the Cuban government particularly regarding dissidents and media censorship, however if I was a US politician I wouldn’t be too vocal about the human rights abuses of other countries. These same politicians also complain about Cuba violating international law due to its suppression of dissent; again this may be true but right-wing believers in American Exceptionalism shouldn’t shout too loudly about violations of international law, and the hypocrisy of the United States must be called out.
The supporting of regimes throughout history by the United States has made various administrations complicit in the human rights abuses for countries all over the world, whether it be historic examples like Pinochet’s Chile and Suharto’s Indonesia or contemporary examples like Saudi Arabia. Historic examples of human tragedies perpetrated by the United States include the Native American genocide and slavery which, although a long time ago, are hard to ignore when these people falsely accuse Cuba sponsoring terrorism.
Many of the actions of the United States during World War II would also be considered as war crimes, specifically Japanese internment, the fire-bombing of Tokyo, and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. No other country in recent years has gone unpunished despite killing so indiscriminately and systematically restricting the liberty of its own citizens, yet the US has the audacity to stand vociferously against the Cuban regime.
Finally recent US government abuses have continued since WWII right up to the presidency of Barrack Obama. From 1932 to 1972 a US Government agency, the U.S. Public Health Service, deceived African Americans in Alabama into being unknowingly injected with syphilis; under Reagan the world saw the Iran-Contra Affair which traded arms with terrorists, an accusation often levied at Cuba; under Bush 43 the shit-storm of the 2003 Iraq War was unleashed upon the world as well as admitting to torture in violation of multiple UN Conventions and international agreements and the Eighth Amendment; and under Obama we saw the huge increase in use of surveillance, violating the privacy rights of people across the world as well as the Fourth Amendment.
Let me clarify, I am not acting as an apologist for the excesses of the Cuban government, I condemn all such excesses, however for the United States, of all countries, to complain the loudest is absurd. Considering the systematic violations of the laws of its own country and international statute, I find it hard to take any criticism from the United States seriously. I shall continue to stress that my defence is strictly based on their system of government, although I have pointed out where I believe there are pitfalls, and not of governmental actions.
To conclude, American opponents to the embargo being lifted shouldn’t complain too much about the human rights abuses of other countries whilst agreeing with policies in recent years that should have sent U.S. officials and leaders in The Hague. The criticisms of Cuba for being undemocratic are false. Although improvements could be made to increase the representation of the Cuban people and decentralise power away from Havana, U.S. politicians have no leg to stand on when it comes to democracy, even if we ignore repeated historic CIA coups and attempts to assassinate Castro.
Condemnation of Cuba where justified should take place, as should of other governments currently considered allies of the West. However, Cuba being undemocratic is nonsense; it could even be argued that not only is Cuba more democratic than the United States, it is one of the more democratic countries in the world.